Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Purpose of Pain

"Does God really care about us? If so, why does He permit suffering?"

The question was written in bold letters across the front of the Watchtower magazine our friendly neighborhood witness for Jehovah had just handed me. And while I found the answer in the pamphlet to be less than satisfactory, I realized the importance of the question. Had I not asked it many times, for myself and my loved ones? "God, if you love me, why did You create me deformed? God, if You love him, why did You let my grandfather get cancer? How could You let my brother and sister die so young? How can You let these bad things happen?" They are questions I have heard from others many times, especially from atheists. In a world so full of pain, it is hard to see a merciful and loving God. It is too easy to, like Personal Failure, come to the conclusion that God--if He exists at all--must be very cold and cruel. And thus the question echoes on in an aching universe: If God is truly loving, how can He let bad things happen? In answer, I propose that pain has a purpose. In fact, I maintain that it has three.

-The first purpose is to teach us about responsibility.

Now, two types of people like to balk at this. The first says that we can't possibly do anything to merit suffering because God--being God--allowed it in the first place, and even made us do it. "You can’t give God the credit for the good without also blaming Him for the bad," sums this mentality up rather well. This is answered rather simply, from a Christian viewpoint. We maintain that God is Love and Goodness in itself. Naturally, if we do anything Loving and Good we are doing it with Him and are capable of it because of Him. This is much like crediting solar power and photosynthesis to the sun; it wouldn't have been possible without the sun. However, to say that we can blame God for the bad is a lot like saying we can blame the sun for darkness and the necessity of flashlights. Evil does not come from God. It is not even a thing unto itself. Rather, it is a lack of God, just like darkness is a lack of light. When people do bad things, they move farther away from God, Love, and Goodness. When people do bad things, those things are bad precisely because God is *not* involved. We cannot blame God for our moving away from Him.
The second type of person thinks that if God really loved us He would save us from pain no matter how much we deserved it. Though the comparison has been used many times before, I have to recycle it here: that's just like a whiny little kid. "If you really cared for me, you'd just forgive me for getting an F on my biology test and let me go to Kirsten's party!" Which note dumps us right back into the first purpose of pain: responsibility.

Responsibility is a crucial point of development in the life of a child. It is the ability to perceive the relationship between action and consequence and to handle the repercussions of one's choices accordingly. We are not born with this knowledge: it is taught to us at a very early age through experience and by our parents. When we crossed the road without first looking (assuming we weren't crushed by a car) our parents fussed us. When we failed a test for lack of study, our parents grounded us. We were told not give our information out of the Internet and, if we did so anyway, our parents punished us for it. All to teach us that when we do things, there are consequences, and when we do bad things there are unpleasant consequences. Our understanding of this deepens as we grow older and become more mature until we learn to not do bad things in the first place. If we could not learn to face the repercussions of our actions or prevent them by not acting, we would never grow...and we might very well end up suffering twofold for our ignorance. This applies in the spiritual realm as well as the physical.

We are fallen men. We can choose to move away from God, and often do. When we do this--when we commit sin--we will face negative repercussions. If we view porn, our relationships suffer. If we use birth control, our relationships suffer...and we can suffer infertility problems. Every bad action has a negative consequence, and it is by facing these consequences that we learn--wonder of wonders--not to do bad things! Like a parent grounding their children for failing a test or giving their information out on the Internet or fussing their child for crossing the street without first looking, God allows us to suffer for our actions, to meet the natural and direct consequences of the choices we willingly made. To teach--that is the first, most obvious, and most mundane purpose of pain.


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